Inmates for Rent, Sovereignty for Sale: The Global Prison Market

46 Pages Posted: 23 Jun 2014 Last revised: 28 Jul 2014

See all articles by Benjamin Levin

Benjamin Levin

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: June 18, 2014


In 2009, Belgium and the Netherlands announced a deal to send approximately 500 Belgian inmates to Dutch prisons, in exchange for an annual payment of £26 million. The arrangement was unprecedented, but justified as beneficial to both nations: Belgium had too many prisoners and not enough prisons, whereas the Netherlands had too many prisons and not enough prisoners. The deal has yet to be replicated, nor has it triggered sustained criticism or received significant scholarly treatment. This Article aims to fill this void by examining the exchange and its possible implications for a global market in prisoners and prison space.

In the Article, I suggest three possible doctrinal and discursive frames through which we might view the Belgian-Dutch exchange: (1) prison labor in the context of globalized labor markets; (2) democracy, sovereignty, and the role of community in criminal punishment; and (3) international trade or the exchange and regulation of resources. Further, in focusing on U.S. analogs to this exchange, I emphasize that this ostensibly unique treaty bears much in common with contemporary carceral policy. I argue that this exchange is actually emblematic of a departure from traditional "theories of punishment" and represents a normalization of the prison as a staple of social and economic life.

Keywords: Belgium, Netherlands, prisons, criminal law, sentencing, theories of punishment, globalization, international trade, prison labor, convict leasing, mass incarceration, prison litigation, prison transfers, prison overcrowding, prison conditions

JEL Classification: F10, J45, J61, K10, K14, K31, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Levin, Benjamin, Inmates for Rent, Sovereignty for Sale: The Global Prison Market (June 18, 2014). Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal, Vol. 23, No. 3, 2014, Available at SSRN:

Benjamin Levin (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics